Chopin handles themes that were too threatening to be accepted in her own time. In "Desiree's Baby," she explores a woman's search for identity as she examines her sense of place in a time in history when women, like blacks, had yet to gain the rights and privileges awarded to white men. Desiree appears to have no identity of her own; that becomes clear at the beginning of the story. She is a foundling, belonging to no one. She takes on the identity of the Valmondes when they adopt her into their family, and she takes on the identity of Armand Aubigny when she becomes his wife.
When Desiree captures the attention of Armand Aubigny, he falls in love "as if struck by a pistol shot." This metaphorically fatal attraction is inextricably connected to her physical, sexual appearance. Armand Aubigny is capable of passion but not true love. Armand lives in a world where ownership determines social structure and women, like land and slaves, are possessions. Chopin forces us to examine whether it is possible for a young woman to have her own sense of identity in these circumstances. Desiree, a foundling, knows nothing of her past; she assumes the identity of those who care for her. Slaves were given the last names of their masters, and masters had sex with their slaves and fathered a generation of mixed blood offspring. As Armand's wife, Desiree assumes a position of servitude, much like that of a slave. Desiree so depends on her husband's approval that, when he rejects her, she no longer sees a place for herself in society. She therefore chooses to retreat from society rather than remain in a place where she feels unable to forge a name and a place of her own.
"Desiree's Baby" explores the theme of love in numerous forms. In contrast to the ephemeral nature of the passionate love Armand feels for Desiree is the strong maternal love Madame Valmonde feels for Desiree as a daughter. Madame Valmonde's love is unconditional. Unable to have children herself, Madame Valmode takes the baby girl she finds on the side of the road as a gift from God, the gift of "a beneficent Providence." Armand's mother appears to love him unconditionally also. Neither of these mothers lets social conditioning rule their feelings. Armand, however, does. His love for his child cannot withstand the assault to his social conscience any more than his love for his wife can withstand it. Whether Desiree lets social pressures rule her feelings remains uncertain. She certainly lets social pressures rule her actions. She chooses to end her baby's life with hers, believing she has no power to fight the social system or to gain back the respect she believes she has lost. In this way, Desiree re-enacts the not uncommon female...
(The entire section is 1104 words.)